WAVERLY – The “newspaper lady” is being honored for her work covering the Lancaster County Fair for 48 years for The News.
Peggy Brown was the heart and soul of The News for nearly five decades. She took a job at the newspaper not long after the publication was founded in the early 1970s. Over the years, she wrote countless stories, took thousands of photographs and met scores people who often came to be thought of as friends.
One of Brown’s favorite assignments came every summer when the Lancaster County Super Fair took place. With camera and notebook in hand, she attended every kind of animal show, saw youth show off their creations at fashion reviews and viewed prize-winning produce and mouthwatering baked goods lovingly displayed for the judges.
For her dedication to covering the fair for The News, Brown was named to the Lancaster County Agriculture Society Hall of Fame. The awards were announced on Aug. 11 when the ag society released a video about the 2020 fair that concluded with Brown’s award.
“I’m totally honored to be on this Hall of Fame,” said Brown.
Brown was completely surprised by the announcement.
“I was just beside myself when I got the call,” she said.
But Brown is not one who likes to have attention focused on her, which kept her from fully comprehending when she was first told about the award in July.
“I said, ‘Why?’” she remembered.
Then she talked to close friends and family members who reminded her of her dedicated coverage of the fair; that she went above and beyond what was expected from her bosses every year. She realized she would be in good company as well.
“There’s quite a few people from Waverly on this Hall of Fame,” she said.
After learning of the award, Brown began reflecting on her time covering the fair for the newspaper. It began each year well before the first 4-H event started.
A week prior to the fair, Brown would find a 4-H family to profile for the newspaper as a way to promote both the fair and 4-H.
“I tried to find a story to give them free publicity,” she said.
During the fair, she would look for familiar faces as she roamed through the barns and buildings. After a few years, it wasn’t hard to spot a family from Waverly or the rest of the newspaper’s coverage area.
“It was easy because you got to where you’d recognize the dads and the moms,” she added.
While the neatly groomed animals and the shiny produce were very photogenic, Brown’s eye turned to the youngsters who devoted so much time to preparing their animals and projects for the fair.
“Their faces are just so emotional that they told me the story,” she said.
Brown watched the young faces as the trophies and ribbons were handed out to witness the reactions.
“Seeing their faces light up when they won the grand champion trophy, or seeing their faces drop when they got a red ribbon and their brother got grand champion.”
After the events had concluded and all of the trophies and ribbons had been handed out, Brown continued to devote extra time to the fair. In the days before computers, Brown would a printed copy of the results list home with her. She’d sit down with a highlighter and mark the hundreds of participants from Waverly and the other communities covered by The News.
Then she’d sit down and type up all of the results, from grand champions to white ribbons. Her then-boss, Owner/Publisher Zean Carney, was not happy that the results took up so much space in the paper. He told Brown he wanted just the champions and purple ribbon winners to be published.
Brown argued that the white ribbons were just as important as the grand champion trophies.
“I believe they all need to get credit,” she said.
Carney eventually gave in, allowing Brown to print the results in smaller type so they would take up less space.
“For 48 years I printed every winner that I could. Every purple, blue, red and white ribbon,” she said.
The children who participate in 4-H have a special place in Brown’s heart. Brown was a 4-H member herself. She would bake cookies and sew clothes to enter in the fair. The family’s favorite coffee cake recipe is one from a 4-H cookbook.
“We’ve always been a 4-H family,” she said.
The Browns would attend the Lancaster County Super Fair and the Nebraska State Fair every year.
While the fair was a part of the Brown family, the fair itself became family to Brown over the years.
“It’s just a big family,” she said. “I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Brown made many friends as she attended the fair. Those friendships were evident when she announced on social media that she had been chosen for the Hall of Fame.
“When we put it on Facebook, the cars, the calls, the emails were just unreal,” she said.
Classmates raved that it was about time a journalist was honored in this manner.
“That made me feel good,” she said.
She even received a congratulatory note from Rev. Dwight Ganzel, the pastor who confirmed her in 1966. The postcard said he was proud of her accomplishments.
Brown retired from The News in November 2018. After nearly two years, she is still recognized as the “newspaper lady” when she’s out and about in Waverly.
“I feel like I still have that ‘newspaper’ look on me,” she said with a laugh. “I probably will have it the rest of my life.”
That could be because she devoted so much of her time to The News.
“It became my whole life,” she said.
While her paychecks were signed by the newspaper owner, Brown said the readers were her real boss.
“They’re the ones you have to answer to,” she said.
Even though she was no longer working for the newspaper, Brown attended the fair last summer. She volunteered at the Farm Bureau’s Fun at the Farm exhibit.
It was so much fun that Brown had planned to volunteer at the exhibit again this summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated all public events, limiting the fair to just 4-H shows.
The way the Hall of Fame awards were announced was also changed by the pandemic. Typically they are given out during the VIP Luncheon held on the opening day of the fair. This year the awards were presented virtually. There are plans to do an in-person presentation at next year’s Super Fair, Brown said.